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2020 Update

2020 has been a dumpster fire. With the ongoing pandemic, global recession, and social justice issues raging on in the US, it’s clear this year has been a miserable one. Still, we have to keep going, keep pushing forward, so with that in mind, I thought I’d look at my New Years resolutions (which I made in late December) and see how they are going. Let’s laugh and cry together shall we?

Play More Gigs Than Ever Before

Hahahahaha! Not a chance! This goal is virtually impossible and certainly not a responsible one to have in 2020. Of course I didn’t know this when I made the goal, but that’s where we are at now. Not a possibility for 2020 and probably not a possibility in 2021.

Have My Music On Spotify

This hasn’t happened, but that’s more of my personal choice. As I’ve gone deeper into 2020 and deeper into my life goal of “impacting the world through sound”, it’s become clear that sound design for games is where my focus needs to be. Because of this, I’m less focused on my music and if it’s available on all platforms. So, my music is not on Spotify, but it’s available for free on YouTube and Soundcloud and for now I’m happy with that.

More Game Audio Work

Not only is this still a goal that’s alive, I’d say it’s my number one objective in 2020. Over the past few months everything I’ve done has been to ramp up my game audio work. Working on a game with peers, working on my sound design reel, and getting deeper and deeper into my knowledge and understanding of sound design. I’m so pumped about everything I’m doing in the game audio space and I can’t wait to see what more I’ll do in 2020 and beyond.

PR At The Marathon

This one hurts. Running is my favorite form of exercise and I was pumped up about the idea of running the marathon again. I loved running my first marathon and was looking forward to training again and showing what I learned from the first time and improving on it. My marathon was set in May and I was halfway into my training when the pandemic hit. This was such a bummer. Also, I’m finding it hard to imagine a race will be possible in 2021 either. I’m not sure what my workout and running routine will be moving forward, but I’m not expecting traditional races to return until 2022.

Appreciate Non-Work Activities

I’m a workaholic. I just love what I do and I’m always working hard to improve, even my rest is really not rest for rest’s sake it’s rest so I can work again. I want to have a better relationship with my non work activities and with my non work life. So this year I wanted to improve that aspect of my life. So far I’d say I get a passing grade on this, but I can do better. I’ve watched more movies for leisure and sports for leisure. I’ve also had less days where I work past five and I’ve also had a better attitude when I call it day early. I’m by no means perfect and some family members might even say I haven’t improved much, but I think I’ve made some progress on this goal.

What’s Next?

For now I’ll keep Appreciate Non-Work Activities and More Game Audio Work. Everything else I’ll put on hold and evaluate as I move forward into 2020 and 20201. This year has been so brutal, but I’m trying to remain positive and make the best out of this situation. So before I wrap up this post I leave you with this resolution for us all. Be kind to yourself, smile as much as possible, love your family, and keep making dope things. Cheers.

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Timeline of my move to LA

I recently moved to Los Angeles and today I’d like to share why I did the move and the connections I’ve developed with the city of Los Angeles over the years.

I first wanted to visit LA in 2013. That year I took a vacation with my family to San Diego. It was the first vacation I had since 2002. It was long overdue and it was a wonderful time. Here’s a picture of my dad and I from that trip.

During that trip I had family from LA kind of giving me grief for not visiting them. They were just giving me a hard time for being only two hours away, but not seeing them or even letting them know I was close by. Honestly, I really didn’t think about it. My family agreed to go to San Diego so the proximity was just a coincidence. Still, I did feel a little bad since I haven’t seen my aunt or her kids basically ever in my life. They live in LA, never leave California, and the last time I’ve seen any of them I was three years old. So when they asked me about visiting I assured them I’d visit in a couple years.

First Trip To LA

It took me a few years, but in the Summer of 2015 I visited LA. I had a great time. Loved hanging out with my immediate and extended family. It was so wild to see the ways my cousins were so similar to me. My aunt had a boy and a girl around my sister and my age so it was like meeting a west coast version of ourselves. They took us everywhere and we ate it all up. The taco trucks, the hike to the Hollywood sign, and the amusement parks, it was all wonderful.

That’s the week I also went to my first LA Galaxy game. As a Chicagoan who had to watch the Chicago Fire in Toyota Park. Seeing the Galaxy play was a 180 to my MLS soccer experience. In Chicago you have travel far to go to the middle of nowhere, watch a bad team play in a half filled stadium, then head to the ungraveled parking lot to go home. In LA you have a beautiful stadium filled with palm trees, a statue of team legends, world class amenities, a great team, and the most loyal and loud fan base America has to offer. At first this was just an observation of two teams heading in two directions, but soon, it became a synonym for my life.

After College

In summer 2016 I finished college and came out inspired and ready to take on the world. And I did. I was able to perform, teach, and compose my way to a full time musicmcareer. It felt so good to be done with school and be able to truly create and work on what I wanted with who I wanted. LA was the last thing on my mind I was happy and working on my craft.

2017: LA As A Summer Home?

I’m a person whose always evaluating their life. Am I challenging myself? Am I maximizing my ability? Am I maximizing my happiness? When 2017 began I started looking at other ways I can impact the musical world. When I reflected I started thinking of doing film scores and video game scores. When focusing on composition and scores, living in LA became an idea I was intrigued by. That’s where movies are made, that where AAA games are made. Yes I can probably do some of that work remotely, but I can also do it in person, be in the community, and increase my work opportunities. Still, I loved Chicago so much it was not an option. Maybe I can work there in the summer or winter?Do some seasonal work there when I’m composing a big project or something. Maybe there’s a way I can work there for a few months at a time I thought.

2018: Switch Turned On

By 2018 I was focused on game music. No more thoughts of film scores I was looking into what I had to do to get work in game music. I started working with a game dev on a project and making music for it. By 2018 I visited LA again. This time with my producer and friend Albert Amey. By now LA was where I wanted to live. I talked with my girlfriend, my sister, and my Dad about it. They all were open to it in theory, but nothing was set in stone. Still, the switch was turned on in my head. When I looked at my ideal life and ideal work. It was in LA working in game music.

2019: GDC And Sound Design

In 2019 I went to GDC for the first time. By then I had samples of my music and was still working on an indie game so I was beginning to get more involved in the game audio space. Going to GDC revitalized and solidified that I was heading in the right direction. That game audio was my calling and the area where I needed to focus my energy. In 2019 I also visited La twice. Once with my girlfriend to celebrate our ten years together, and another time to go to a friends wedding. Both times were magical and reconfirmed that LA was the place for me. 2019 was also huge because I became more involved not just in game music, but sound design. At first this was just a means to an end. A way to get more indie gigs and work, but soon it became my main interest.

2020: The Move

2020 was intense for everyone. Career wise I went all in on sound design. Learning middleware like FMOD and Wwise, working on demo reels, and attaining all the knowledge I could. My goals became clear. I want to make an impact on the world through sound. Specifically through sound design. I want to work at a AAA studio in Los Angeles doing sound design for games. This goal is a long term one and I didn’t plan on moving to LA until I either got a job at a AAA studio or around 2022 when my finances were in better order. Than a global pandemic hit and changed the world. For my family it meant out all our jobs were on hold or a moved to remote work. This moment gave us time to reflect and evaluate our lives. And when we did, my family and I came to the conclusion it was best to move now. To move to LA and restart our lives there.

What’s next?

LA wasn’t some wide eyed dream for me. It had to work for my love. Slowly, demonstrating time and time again, the value it can bring me. With each visit, each interaction with local Angelinos, I became more and more convinced that this was where I belonged. Now I’m here two years early ten toes down ready to bust my tail off and make the biggest impact I can on the world through sound. LA earned my heart, earned my love, and I’m excited to give that love right back to the LA community. Let’s get to work.

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Donating to Afrorack

This whole year has been a struggle and the past few weeks have only made it more difficult. The death of George Floyd has sparked conversations about police brutality and the black lives matter movement. These conversations have been stressful, painful, but necessary. While looking at my own career and ways I can make an impact in my industry I decided to donate to Afrorack . So today I’d like to talk about what Afrorack does and why you should get involved.

About Afrorack

Afrorack is an audio arts organization that focuses on teaching sound design and modular synthesis to young adults of color in the Chicago land area. They are focused on creating a diverse community and teaching STEM with workshops, seminars, and ambitious programming.

Getting involved

You can get involved by donating as little as $5 a month to support their mobile workshops. You can also make a one time donation or donate to their go fund me campaign to help cover costs for this organization during this pandemic.

Why you should care

We have an accessibility issue in audio. The cost to really get established in the industry is thousands of dollars. Yes there are free things to use, yes you can try to start small and eventually save up money, but in general you need thousands of dollars to even get started with a career in sound design. This is a problem. It makes it harder for POC and people in difficult economic situations to even see sound design as an option. Programs like Afrorack help educate and close that gap. It makes the barrier of entry much lower and gives young adults opportunities they may not have even known existed.

I myself donated $10 to Afrorack. It’s not much, but it’s a start and I hope you’ll join me and help out an organization that’s doing good work in the audio space.

Black lives matter and we need to work together to end police brutality and make this country a better place. In the last week I’ve donated to multiple black lives matter organizations and I encourage you to do the same. It’s been a tough time and it’s been hard to even see why music and sound been matter. In the grand scheme everything I do started to feel insignificant. If you’ve also felt this allow me to give you some encouragement. Keep going. You are not alone and while yes music and sound isn’t the most important thing in the world it is an important thing in the word. Let’s use our field let’s use our voices and let’s use our resources to make an impact on the world.

My motto in life is “To make an impact on the world through sound” when I think of this mantra I usually think of it from an audio perspective. Working on bigger projects, landing bigger contracts, growing as an artist. But it can also mean using sound to impact people socially. It can be whatever I needed it to be and whatever I want it to be. And right now I need to be an ally. I need to be an advocate for my community and my peers. This is the next step but not the last step. I encourage you to take these steps with me and figure out how we can make this world what we want it to be.

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Kansas 1935: Deep Dive

Today I’d like to take a deep dive into the making of my latest song “Kansas 1935”. I’m going to talk about how it was made, what is what made for, and how I feel it ultimately turned out.

Kansas 1935 was a song I wrote for the Charity EP Jam. The Charity EP Jam is a project where a handful of composers write music based on a theme and the proceeds go to the Charity Able Gamers.

It’s a long road

The theme this year was dust. At first I struggled with how to approach dust. What does dust sound like? What does dust feel like and how can I convey it? I started by looking up dust storms, wind sounds, and even watching some documentaries on the Dust Bowl. That’s when I decided to write the song about Kansas in 1935. I wanted to share what I felt listening to the stories from that dust bowl and try to capture that feeling via music.

Rough Start

I started with an entirely different song and thought it was a solid beginning. After a couple days and some feedback I realized that was not the case. At first I tried to salvage what I had and make something good out of it, but after a while, I realized it was best to throw it all away. Sometimes the best thing you can do is start over so I did. It’s tough to admit something you made isn’t good, but it wasn’t good. Better to realize that and try again then to just have a meh recording.

Take Two

So I went back to the drawing board. This time I went with the instrumentation of piano and guitar. I also went in thinking of having one idea that would turn into different ideas and eventually end on something completely different. This turned out quiet well and I was able to also get my friend to play guitar on it.

Putting Together The Pieces

So the way the song works is we have four parts. At first all four parts are played one after the other. There are two piano parts and two guitar parts. The song is essentially done with new ideas when the piano is done playing at the 1:10 mark. Then there is a dust storm that occurs until 1:35. Once it settles down the music is rearranged and returns in a different order. The new order is 3,1,2,4. This is done to represent how the dust storm rearranged and changed the music. I didn’t choose the order. I actually wrote these numbers representing the different sections down on a sheet of paper, placed them in a jar, and threw them on the floor. I picked them up off the floor in order of the pieces of paper closest to me.

This actually turned out quiet well! I like the new order and I like the fact that the new order is kind of subtle. Many people don’t notice that things don’t come back the way they began until the songs is nearly done. I like having this kind of inside joke or hidden secret in the song that’s available for anyone to notice if they pay close attention. And if they don’t, hopefully they just hear a good song.

Closing Thoughts

I really enjoyed the process of writing this piece. It was hard, required a lot of rewriting, and it really forced me to reflect on my work and brought out my best. I hope in the end I did good work and made great art. If you have the ability to do so I’d love it if you’d make a donation for this album. It would really mean a lot to me and the proceeds all go to Able Gamers.

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Dance Again Deep Dive

Today I’d like to a take deep dive into the making of my latest single “Dance Again”. I want to talk about why I made it, how I made it, and what I’ve learned. Let’s begin.

My purpose for making this song was simple. I wanted to make a song to just make it. It’s been years since I have done this. As a professional musician I spend all my musician time working. I’m learning songs for gigs, I’m learning songs for recordings, I’m learning songs for a deeper understanding of a style or genre. While I obviously go for gigs, recordings, and genres I enjoy, you secede some freedom when you are a professional artist. Compromises however small, are made. I try to find things that are not only work, but fun, but even fun work is work.

So when I made Dance Again I went in with the mentality that this was just for fun, just for me. I’m making it to make something. Will I use it for pitching clients? Maybe if it fits, but I’m not trying to use it for that. And I made it with zero intention of doing so. The song came out the way it did because I liked it that way. No agenda, no deeper long term plan, just a fun song I liked.

Another thing you should know is that I use the app Korg Gadget on my Nintendo Switch exclusively to make the song. I’ve dabbled with this app for sometime now and I decided this was a great way to have some fun and challenge myself to go deeper into the app. I feel pretty comfortable with Korg Gadget and using it to make music I thought would be fun. The only sounds that are not native to the app are the voice samples I use. Everything else can be found using just Korg Gadget on the Switch.

Making Music is Hard!

I struggled a lot with the structure of this song. The drum pattern came to me pretty quickly and that was maintained throughout, but how to build themes and motifs around it was a struggle. The app refers to different parts as “scenes” so for a while I had extra scenes I was trying to fit in and certain scenes were longer before I was able to edit them down. For example, near the end I had the second to last breakdown happening for twice as long and I realize that was just way too much so I cut it in half.

This songs structure really came together when I let the words tell the story. Despite the few words, they actually dictate what’s happening on the record. The story goes a friend telling another friend that they should take their date dancing. After dancing the protagonist tells his date “you look really beautiful tonight” she replies “you don’t look so bad yourself mister” then he proceeds to offer her a ride home…

Impact of Sitcoms on My Song

One thing you should know about me is I love sitcoms. I mean I love sitcoms. I’ve watched How I Met Your Mother more times than I can count. Watched Friends at least 3-4 times since it’s aired on Netflix. And I’ve watched Cheers, Seinfeld, and Kings of Queens infinitely. Sitcoms have been there for me when I’m up, when I’m down, when I needed to laugh, and when I needed to cry. So why not use those voices to retell and reimagine the stories they’ve already told me?

Breaking Down The Words

So the first line I’ve used was from Friends where Rachel tells Joey “Oh dancing take her dancing!” In the scene she’s suggesting Joey take a date dancing and the same thing happens in my song. For the song it’s not the Friends characters just one person talking to another making that suggestion.

The second line is from How I Met Your Mother where Ted is telling Stella “You look really beautiful tonight”. Now in the show Ted is just saying that because he was caught staring at Stella. He didn’t really think she looked “beautiful tonight” he was just looking at her face to see what her reaction was to watching Star Wars for the first time. In my track the words were sincere.

Next line I used was from the same episode of How I Met Your Mother where Stella says “You don’t look so bad yourself mister…” in the episode it’s Stella coming on to Ted. In my song the same sentiment can be interpreted.

The final line I use is from Cheers where Sam Malone tells his worker Carla Tortelli he’s taking her home after their shift of work at the bar. In the episode this is a normal event. In my track it implies a pleasant end to a date.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

My focus on this track was just to have fun, make some electronic music using Korg Gadget, and to tell a story using words from my favorite sitcoms. I think I accomplished all of these things. I really love the breakdown that happens at the :54 second mark. In my opinion it’s the highlight of the song. Coming in at a close second is the story developing from 1:11-1:33. I really enjoyed making this and I hope you enjoy listening to it. If you have any questions, comments, or feedback feel free to comment below. Take care and be safe out there!